Want to know what your MSP will do for students? We interviewed the candidates.
The 2021 Scottish Parliament election will take place on 6 May. The vote takes place every five years and will be the sixth since the devolution of the Scottish Parliament. As the race tightens, The Glasgow Guardian sits down with the five major party candidates for the Kelvin constituency, in which the University of Glasgow is situated.
The deadline to register to vote was Monday 19 April 2021. The Scottish Parliament will be elected using a system called Alternative Member System (AMS). This means, on polling day, registered voters will have the opportunity to cast two votes. The first vote is a constituency vote for a candidate to represent the local area, Glasgow Kelvin. The second vote will elect a regional selection of Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who will represent Glasgow. Voters will elect 73 constituency MSPs, one for each of the constituencies in Scotland, and 56 regional MSPs, seven for each of the eight electoral regions in Scotland, amounting to a total of 129 MSPs elected. The Scottish government is established from the party that makes up most of the seats, or a coalition can be formed.
Sandra White, an SNP MSP, has held the Kelvin constituency for the last 10 years but decided to step down from the position last year, endorsing Kaukab Stewart as her successor. Stewart has been campaigning for independence for the last 30 years, first standing for Scottish Parliament against Donald Dewar in 1999. Whilst living in the West End with her family and working as a teacher across various communities in Scotland, Stewart has remained an active member of the party. If elected, Stewart will be the first woman of colour to sit in the Scottish Parliament as an MSP.
In the last election, the Scottish Greens were the greatest competition for the SNP in the Kelvin Constituency. Patrick Harvie, the representative for the area and co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, achieved almost a quarter of the vote in 2016 and is standing for the seat again in 2021. Harvie has served as the regional MSP for the Glasgow region since 2003, which made him the first openly bisexual member of the Scottish Parliament. During his time in parliament, Harvie has been involved in campaigning for independence, the Rent Rights housing campaign, and a range of other issues from asylum to sexual health.
David McKenzie will be standing for the Liberal Democrats. McKenzie grew up in Greenock before moving to Glasgow and is now working in tech for a start-up company. He initially joined the Labour party at 15 but left in 2019 to join the Liberal Democrats because he viewed federalism as the best way forward for the company. He describes himself as being fascinated by both national and international politics. This is McKenzie’s first time running for the Glasgow Kelvin seat.
Before Sandra White took hold of the constituency, Pauline McNeill represented the area as a member of the Scottish Labour party since the first election to the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999. Seeking to reclaim the constituency is Pam Duncan-Glancy after Hollie Cameron’s dismissal in March. Duncan-Glancy has been a wheelchair user since the age of 5, leading her to campaign for accessibility, equality, and social justice throughout her life. Currently, she works for the NHS in communications for public health supporting the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. She also stood in the University’s constituency for the Westminster elections in 2019.
Grahame Cannell has been selected by the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party to stand for the Kelvin seat. Cannell currently works as an engineer and has lived in the Kelvin constituency for the past two years. During the pandemic, Cannell has also been volunteering with a local pharmacy to help deliver prescriptions to those vulnerable or self-isolating. He believes the last thing that constituency needs is another independence referendum, instead, he wishes to focus on protecting jobs and rebuilding communities.
Although these are the candidates for the five major political parties in Scotland, several other parties are standing seeking to secure regional votes, including Alex Salmond’s newly-founded Alba party. Additionally, two independent candidates are standing for the area: Daniel Donaldson and Craig Ross.
Polling stations will open on Thursday 6 May at 7am and will close at 10pm. The deadline for postal voting has passed, but a number of measures will be in place at the polling stations to keep in-person voters safe. Voters will be expected to use hand sanitiser upon entry and exit and should wear a face-covering unless exempt. It is recommended that voters bring their own pen or pencil to vote, however, clean pencils will also be available. Depending on the polling station, social distancing measures for the queue and one-way systems may also be in operation to protect voters. If voters do not feel comfortable attending a polling station, they can also apply to vote by proxy but must complete an application. Typically, counting the votes has started overnight but as a result of the pandemic, counting will not begin until the morning after, with the result expected across the weekend on 8 or 9 May.
We interviewed the candidates via Zoom, the recordings of which are available to watch on our Youtube. Unfortunately, Grahame Cannell was unable to schedule a time to Zoom with us “due to work commitments and previously organised campaign commitments”. Read onto the next page to meet your Kelvin candidates.
The Glasgow Guardian: Why should Glasgow students vote for you?
Kaukab Stewart: I’ve been a teacher for 30 years and I don’t think that you’re going to find anybody who’s more committed to education than myself. Not only have I been teaching but I’ve also been involved previously in the EIS [Educational Institute of Scotland] and currently, I’m a member of the NASUWT [a union that represents teachers across the UK]. I can assure students that I’m absolutely on their side, and I understand a lot of the concerns.
Patrick Harvie: I think the overwhelming reason why we’re asking people to vote Green in this election is because our future depends on it… I think the task of recovering from a crisis like the Covid pandemic is a challenge but it’s also an opportunity to reshape our society. You know, a little bit in the same way that the generation after the Second World War: that they fought together, they survived together, and they decided to rebuild together, and they laid the foundations of a welfare state at a National Health Service and for decades after that… I think this is a real moment of opportunity to show that we’re up for building that better future that we know is possible.
David McKenzie: I want a vision of Scotland and what it’s going to look like in the future and I think that as an opportunity, especially with the Scottish Lib Dems, to have something different to say about how Scotland might look in the next decade or 20 years. I’m a federalist and one of the big problems that we have in Scotland right now is this constant talk about the constitution and how it’s going to look: Is Scotland going to be independent? Is it going to be part of the United Kingdom? And I think actually there’s a third way, and a third conversation that we should be having, and that’s about federalism… So I think there’s an opportunity for me to put a different voice forward for Glasgow, that’s not just one between independence and unionism.
Pam Duncan-Glancy: Students should vote for me in Glasgow Kelvin and for Scottish Labour this time around if they want an absolute focus on recovery in our NHS and our health and social care service, if they want a recovery in our jobs, if they want a recovery in our communities, a recovery in our climate. I’m doing this because I’m an equality and human rights activist. I’ve been campaigning for equality and human rights my entire life.
Grahame Cannell: At this uncertain time, the only priority of our governments should be to work together to manage the coronavirus crisis and rebuild our country afterwards. But if there is no check on an SNP Government after May’s election, they will put their obsession with securing a second independence referendum above Scotland’s national interest. This is the last thing Scotland needs right now.The Scottish Conservatives have pledged:To rebuild the Scottish economy with full employment, so that everyone can get a good job, wherever they live; To invest record funding in our NHS and clear the backlog of delayed treatment and procedures; To restore standards in Scottish Education and recruit 3,000 additional teachers in our schools; To pass a victim’s law to put our justice system on the side of victims of crime and the police.
GG: During the pandemic, do you think adequate support has been given to students?
KS: I know that I had to teach in a completely different way, you know, embrace online learning teaching, which was something that I’d never done before and we literally had overnight to prepare for that. So, whilst I think that the government and the professionals like myself did everything that we could knowing what we knew at the time, clearly, hindsight, it’s a great thing, and there were things that could have been done better.
PH: Greens have shown that we have been on the side of students who’ve been often forced back onto campus at the wrong time, exploited by accommodation providers. We’ve tried to make sure that students in the private sector, whether it’s individual private landlords or purpose-built student accommodation, have got a fair deal, instead of being left at the mercy of powerful landlord interests.
DM: No, well, I don’t think there’s been adequate support for students at this present time, I think we’ve seen a lot of students have really struggled. Not only from the perspective of how they’ve been treated and coming back to university but also think there’s a serious lack of funding in mental health services as well, for people and students.
PDG: No, no, no, absolutely not. They’ve not had the funding that they need, they didn’t get the guidance they needed in terms of whether they should have been going to their jobs, they were brought back to university, but then they couldn’t necessarily go to work because they were told to stay in their halls. They didn’t get the mental health support that they needed because, again, as I said earlier about the funding in our mental health services, and they didn’t get the advice and support that they needed on campus because there wasn’t that available for them. I think we need to remember that the students have been let down by this government before the pandemic as well.
GC: Students have faced a year of constant upheaval and uncertainty and I certainly believe more should have been done to provide stability to students. I simply do not believe that the SNP Government provided good enough leadership to the university sector and its students. Especially looking back at the start of term in September and at Christmas there just was not enough proper planning, coordination and communication given to students.
GG: Mental health services have been severely underfunded especially at university. How do you plan on addressing Scotland’s mental health crisis?
KS: Mental health is an enormous issue again I think I’ve got an advantage of having a further depth of understanding in that. I’ve noticed more mental health pressures on families and young children and at secondary, but the secondary children are obviously, a lot of them, are working towards university as well. I’ve noticed when they’ve been able to get the support rapidly at the right time and that relies on staffing. Talking therapies, I don’t think, generally speaking as a nation, we’ve ever been good at talking about mental health anyway. What we need to do is not only promote that through media [that] it’s good to talk about it. But with me to back it up, you’re providing the professionals, who are suitably qualified, to support people with mental health anxieties and I think going forward, I’m glad to see that the Scottish government has committed to providing further funding to provide the services to clients.
PH: We’ve already set up a programme of investment of £360 odd-million increase on mental health services with a heavy emphasis on young people, not just universities, but schools as well, and we need mental health services to be accessible in communities through people’s GP practices and other community services… The other big issue in this mental health crisis that we’re facing is causation: what are the driving factors that lead people into mental health crises or exacerbate existing mental health problems? And you know it’s the metaphor we use: “It’s a little bit like where we’re fishing people out the river, while further upstream people are still being pushed into the river.” And that’s what that’s the problem we have if we focus only on those services. The services are needed, but we need to be looking at secure housing, secure incomes, we need to be looking at people’s working and living conditions, we need to be looking at all aspects of our health.
DM: I was speaking to one of the professors in mental health studies, especially in suicide rates in young men, at Glasgow University, and I think we seriously need to start looking at when you’re in a situation like this, how do we put more funding towards supporting students in a difficult situation, who would be cut off from their family and friend environment, to get through the situation, through therapy and other means, to help them be supported. I think there is absolutely a case to be made there. Obviously, when we come out of this pandemic, it may not be in this particular situation, but we still need to recognise that there are people who do have struggles with mental health and we don’t want to just drop that after the pandemic’s ended.
PDG: The first thing that we would do is bring up our percentage of funding for mental health within the NHS in line with other parts of the UK so we would increase it to at least 11% and grow it beyond that. We would have a mental health practitioner in every GP surgery, we would give a right to access a counsellor in every school for pupils so that they get the support that they need to come through the pandemic and move forward.
GC: While Scotland has been in lockdown for the last few months, many people will have experienced raised levels of stress and anxiety. This has after all been a very difficult time… Scotland’s mental health services were under pressure before the Covid-19 pandemic and now face immense challenges. We would support them by increasing the share of health funding spent on mental health services to 10% by the end of the next parliament. We would also kickstart a permanent shift towards community mental health services by expanding programmes such as cognitive behavioural therapy, social prescribing, exercise referral schemes and peer support.
GG: Young people are concerned about their job prospects post-Covid. How do you believe your party helps with this issue?
KS: I think there’s a raft of issues that have been rolled out in the last few days. And I think the one that is most important is the Youth Guarantee Scheme, which guarantees every child the right to employment, education, apprenticeships, or formal volunteering opportunities, because, whilst I’m a benefit of free education myself, I also know that it’s not for everybody. Quite rightly, we put out a good value on further and higher education, but we also have to value our young people that want to go into trades, apprenticeships and to make sure that they are properly paid and there is security.
PH: I believe that the Greens are the only party that is willing to face up to the reality of the economic change that is coming. The age of oil is coming to an end, the fossil fuel era is coming to an end, and if we don’t end it, it will end us. So we need to be recognising that profound economic changes are coming and investing for the future, investing in the sustainable industries of the future. Now the green investment plan that we’re putting forward in this election, we believe it can generate over 100,000 new high-quality jobs in Scotland.
DM: I think there’s a really good opportunity to start looking at, you’ve heard that phrase “build back better”, and it’s something that’s been bandied about by all political parties about how we come out of this pandemic. But if you look at some other countries across the globe and I’ll pick one, for instance, Canada. So, Canada, obviously does have our sister party, the Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau, and they’ve announced actually that they’re going to be building strategic investment into “build back better” schemes, and what that means is big shovel-ready projects that are going to bring more people into employment… So I think there’s that, what’s key is how do we invest and I think there’s opportunities to look at things like a rail infrastructure in Scotland, I think there’s a real need to do serious improvements there.
PDG: I think that one of the biggest opportunities we have right now is because we have to do things differently So for me what that means is the opportunity to create unionised, well-paid and green jobs, jobs and the care sector, where we know as well, that is a huge gap in provision that we need, we need more people in our care sector and we need them to be paid 15 pounds an hour minimum because they are the people who’ve come out every day, day-in, day-out, supported people like me who need social care during this pandemic.
GC: The UK government has put in place a number of measures to help the economic recovery, including the furlough scheme – which has protected over a million Scottish jobs during the pandemic. We are proposing a plan to help rebuild Scotland’s economy. A part of this plan is a “Job Security Councils” that would be agile, sector-specific and offer work coaches to help match people’s skills to new job opportunities, ensuring that the “Covid-19 generation” is not left behind. We have also pledged to help people retrain and upskill with £500 “Retrain to Rebuild” accounts for every Scottish worker.
GG: What role do you believe the Scottish government should play in university?
KS: I think that they have to trust that pedagogy of good learning and teaching, they have to trust the professionals with facts. Just like how health policy is led by evidence-based, science-based, it should be the same for education. There’s plenty of good research out there that should be trusted by the professionals and then from that there is obviously funding, to make sure that is proper funding so that we can invest. It’s all about investing in the future. As far as I see it, if we really want to tap into the potential of Scotland, then it means that we need to have a skilled workforce, and that includes the creative arts as well. And I’m always a champion for the STEM subjects, especially for underrepresented groups, women in particular, it’s all the promotion of those investing in research and development.
PH: Universities themselves are independent bodies but I think the context needs to be set by the Scottish government that education is a public service. Now, this has been done, in part, by ensuring that we resist the pressure for fees. Education should be free at the point of access and either upfront fees or a graduate tax would be unacceptable to us… Your education is about our holistic experience of life is not just about what’s going to pay off in the next quarter GDP figures.
DM: I think there’s an important role that our universities in Scotland play and especially the Liberal Democrats are now announcing that they’re going to be looking at how do we get more people who are coming and graduating out of university to enter the world of work and how do we support that… We’ve got to be working with our universities and we’ve got to be funding more investment and research and development so that we can all benefit from the ideas that come out of our great institutions about how we tackle these problems.
PDG: I think that they have a huge role to play so not only do they have a role in determining the sort of funding and support that students will get, so Scottish Labour, as you might have heard last night in the debate, would have a minimum income guarantee and that would, of course, extend to students. The Scottish government should be making sure that our universities are not run for profit but they’re the run for education, as they should. We should be making sure that where they use procurement within our universities that they do that in a fair and sustainable way so that through any government funding that goes to university should be made sure that, if they use that to employ people or to create services, that those services and those employment opportunities increase representation in the workforce, end zero-hours contracts, pay the living wage, and that’s the power of the government.
GC: We believe that the Scottish government should continue to support free university tuition – and we have committed to this as we go into the 2021 election. We also want to see the cap lifted on Scottish students that has kept many deserving Scottish pupils from receiving a university place. We would also launch a review of the post-18 education landscape in Scotland so that we can seek to rebalance the relationship between academic and vocational education. It is important that the government supports and funds universities properly so that we can continue to be a beacon of world-class further education. Universities know their own individual needs and students best, but we know there is a role for government in ensuring students’ rights are upheld and ensuring there is a level of accountability for universities across Scotland.
GG: The climate crisis is obviously a pressing issue, what actions do you plan on taking to tackle it in Scotland?
KS: We’ve [referring to Glasgow’s carbon neutrality target] actually said by 2030. Now I know that that’s ambitious and we’ve been criticised for [not] reaching the targets we have, but actually, it’s good to have ambition, because it keeps you sharp and keeps you focused. We’ve increased the fleet of electric buses, for instance, and for Glasgow Kelvin in particular, and for students, it’s very important to make sure that they can transport safely and cheaply and in a clean way.
PH: One of the biggest areas of failure in Scotland is transport policy, where politicians, for the most part, are still trying to offer people more of the same: let’s make it easier for you to drive, let’s make it easier and cheaper for you to get a car. That’s not what we need. We need investment in active travel, we need… safe places to walk, cycle, and wheel, and we need public transport that really meets people’s needs.
DM: I think what we need to do is actually flip the switch on how we talk about the claim on the emergency because there are some people out there who, for reasons unbeknownst to me, are not convinced of it, and we need everyone to move on this quickly, and if you focus on the health impact that it’s having in places like Glasgow because of a result of pollution, I think you’d get people to move on that a lot faster…The Liberal Democrats are committing to actually, once we get into the next term of parliament, having a real review of how we spend on public transport infrastructure and active transport, which is people, walking, you know, cycling, wheeling, whatever form they take to their jobs and we’re also committed to introducing the concept of 20-minute neighbourhood switches that you will have all the needs on your doorstep within walking distance or cycling distance.
PDG: I fundamentally believe that we cannot have social justice if we don’t have climate justice and so that’s why it’s integral to a lot of what Labour’s plans will be… I know, for example, that we support a Green New Deal, and what that means is that we support good, well-paid, unionised green jobs, that we do that with a just transition because it isn’t OK for us to say to the workers who work in some of our carbon-heavy industries today that they won’t have the jobs or tools. We need to create the jobs of tomorrow and then support that transition into the new workforce, and we will do that.
GC: In recent decades we have experienced catastrophic loss of species and their habitats, accelerated by climate change. That’s why the Scottish Conservatives will introduce an ambitious Nature Bill in the next parliament, to strengthen environmental protections on land, in our rivers and at sea – so that we can reverse the decline in native species. We also have plans to increase the energy efficiency of homes – that is why we have pledged to invest a huge £2.5bn in it. We have plans to bring forward a Circular Economy Bill early in the next parliament. A circular economy is where we reuse, recycle and reduce our use of raw material in our economy to cut down on waste and create jobs. We would bring forward a bill to set new targets for reducing our raw material usage while creating green jobs in recycling.
GG: Scottish independence is becoming more popular among young people. Would you support another referendum? Why do you think Scottish students should/shouldn’t back independence?
KS: The SNP has made that case and appealed to students, I think it’s because independence is ambitious for the country. It’s hopeful and it’s a really positive vision, that message of an internationalist, outward-looking, socially-just, left of centre party that wants to promote those values and independent Scotland where everybody is made to feel welcome. I think that I think it’s wonderful that young people don’t think that they’re too poor, that they’re too wee, or they’re not clever enough… that they feel that by having all believers of a small independent nation, that we have that drive and ambition to govern ourselves and to shape a society with values that are important to us.
PH: The Greens are very clearly saying there should be another independence referendum within the next parliament. I think it’s too soon to put a date… because we are still struggling our way out of Covid, we’re still not out of lockdown yet, and you know, there are really, really immediate challenges in the months ahead but certainly within the new parliament, within the new five-year term, I think it’s necessary. And fundamentally the promises that were made in 2014 [by anti-independence parties] have been broken.
DM: There’s a middle way, and when you look at it, there’s going to be, no matter what the outcome of this is, there’s going to be conflict between people who want to remain a Member State of the United Kingdom and people who want outright independence and I would hate to see Scotland’s future and Scotland’s potential be thrown away for 20 years of constitutional wrangling and discussions and debate on both sides, about what the best future for Scotland is.
PDG: I can understand why young people think the only way out of this is independence because they’ve not lived with a Labour government. Labour have been out of government now for some considerable time and that is actually a tragedy… I know what it was like to have a Labour government, I know how good it can be, but I understand why young people today will look around and go “Well, we’ve got the SNP who have delayed using their social security powers, who have allowed child poverty to rise, who have allowed the attainment gap in Scotland to widen and we’ve got the Tories who’ve created a hostile environment, a ridiculously hostile environment in the benefits system, as well as in the country, in general, and who have a given us Brexit” so no wonder people [are] like “What do we need to do?”. What I would say to those people, what I would say to young people today is, the reset you’re looking for is not to redraw the border. The reset you’re looking for is absolutely about socialism.
GC: Right now, the only priority of our government should be managing this crisis and then rebuilding our country. But the SNP’s priority is another independence referendum, which Nicola Sturgeon has said could happen in the middle of the pandemic if they win a majority in May. The Scottish Fiscal Commission forecast that Scotland’s economy will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest. They have forecasted that Scottish GDP will grow by 2% in 2021, 7% in 2022, and will not recover to its pre-coronavirus level until 2024. Our primary focus simply has to be recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic so that we can get people back into work and rebuild our communities.
GG: A recent internal report revealed huge racial problems at the University of Glasgow, and last year an internal review of Police Scotland found racial bias, how do you plan on helping Scotland become a safe space for people of colour?
KS: I have faced it and I fight it, you know constantly. I did actually arrange to have a meeting with Glasgow University, and I did so, and we talked about the action plan that the University has made up in order to address this. I know that they have set up a group to look at this. I am working with Glasgow University on that and should I be elected, I have said to them that I will be monitoring their progress and keeping an eye on it so that it’s not far as kicking it onto the long grass or we’re going to have an inquiry that actually nothing changes, I want to have measurable targets.
PH: This is hugely important and, especially in the wake of the UK government’s attempt to propagandize its way out of the concept of institutional racism… I think we fundamentally need to involve the people who are affected by these issues in the design of the solution, so it shouldn’t be for somebody like me to say here’s what’s going to affect racism in our society, we need to be empowering and giving voice to the communities who are marginalized.
DM: The best thing I can do as a white male is to support what people think is the best way to tackle these racial inequalities and I think it’s down to people like me to listen and be there and hear and get people’s opinions on how we tackle these things, and how I can best support that. I don’t want to sit here and say, I think we should do X, because I’ve never experienced that. I’ve just never experienced that, and I think that’s the best thing I can do is to be a voice there, to be open, listen, take people’s points of views across and then take them to places like the Scottish Parliament and other institutions in Glasgow, and be a supportive voice in how we change things.
PDG: I think we have to do several things. I think the first thing we have to do is leadership. We absolutely have to call out racism when we see it. And I was actually gutted – I know, as someone who has campaigned for equality and human rights for years and years and years, I know how bad it is, but still when I see statistics like that, I’m still shocked and gutted when I see it because you think that institutions like universities should probably know better. But actually, if we cannot get our universities right, how can we ever get our education, how can we get our employment sector as well, because actually, this is a huge part of getting into employment as we go forward, so we really need to address this.
GC: We must be clear that racism is still far too prevalent in Scotland, impacts people daily and that action must be taken against it. No one should be marginalised or discriminated against because of their ethnicity or background. We stand with the ethnic minority population in Scotland and recognise that more needs to be done to protect, uphold and further their rights and fight for equality… We absolutely believe that genuine hate crime should be punished through the use of statutory aggravators, and we know that discrimination needs to be dealt with seriously and head-on. We want to root out this form of hate so that no one is persecuted for their gender, race, sexuality or religion.
The full interviews with the candidates full answers are available on our Youtube, except for Grahame Cannell.